What do a twenty six year-old Pentecostal and two children raised outside of religion have in common that would attract them to a high mass? I asked your son what he thought, and he thought it was a lack of asthetics and tradition, but I’m not so sure that’s all of it, and now we’re completely stumped. I was curious to know what you thought?
Welcome to the my inaugural blog. Some of you will know me from my postings on other sites. For those that don’t know me I am a parish priest of an Episcopal Church in Stamford, CT. I have a Ph.D. from the Institute Of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College. I have written on an number of topics including the priesthood, the doctrine of the atonement and the theology and psychology of childhood. I will be posting some of my writings on the current controversy in the Anglican Communion including the Windsor Report and also on more general theological topics.
Today’s post is an answer to an email from a friend. Here is the question and my answer below.
One of my coworkers and her husband are atheists, and they have repeatedly found their five year-old and seven year-old sitting in front of the television watching Mass on the Catholic Channel. Neither my coworker nor her husband has been negative about religion. The kids apparently haven’t questioned, and they haven’t brought it up. I thought that maybe they did this because they felt like they were missing out hearing their classmates talk about church. Then I talked to a Pentecostal friend of mine who has found himself glued to the Catholic Channel watching the same things as the children. He goes to church, and he is no stranger to the gospel, but he does a lot of study on his own, and he recently bought a Rosary. Now he’s talking about wanting to find a place like Advent (a famous Anglo-Catholic parish in Boston) Advent is a pretty big leap from the AoG. Strangely, he’s not the first person I’ve known to do that lately, and I’m sure the kids aren’t unique either.
What do a twenty six year-old Pentecostal and two children raised outside of religion have in common that would attract them to a high mass? I asked your son what he thought, and he thought it was a lack of aesthetics and tradition, but I’m not so sure that’s all of it, and now we’re completely stumped. I was curious to know what you thought?
What a big question. A lot to think about here.
I think that we are born with a natural capacity for religion and the religion we have a natural capacity for is a religion of ceremony and ritual that brings us in touch with supernatural realities. I have stressed bringing little children into the communion service all through my ministry because little children have a natural capacity to know God through the liturgy. They understand the religious language of symbol and ritual intuitively and perceive the mysterious presence of Christ in and through the Mass.
In the same way that the capacity for artistic creation is hammered out of children by our typical patterns of child rearing and education, the same is often true of religion, i.e. Putting little children in didactic and instructional educational environments at a time when that is not developmentally appropriate and depriving them of the liturgical experiences to which they are developmentally attuned. This is why I like methods of Christian Education for children like Godly Play and Catechesis of The Good Shepherd that provide opportunity for reflection on liturgical and devotional experience.
It doesn’t surprise me too much that your Pentecostal friend is attracted to the same realities. Pentecostalism at its best cherishes experiences of the glory of God in worship. Something has happened to your friend which has caused him to perceive that the Mass is shot through with the glory of God in Christ so that the things of this world, bread and wine, are resplendent with the life and light of the world to come. The Rosary is seemingly a further stretch. But think how popular the film “The Passion” has been exactly with Evangelical and Pentecostal audiences. That film is organized around the seven sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. It is a meditation on the glory of God in the passion of the Son and on the response of the Christian soul to that passion and glory modeled on the response of Our Lady who is the paradigm for both the individual Christian soul and the Church.
Liturgies of the Holy Eucharist that become cut off from meaningful scriptural exposition and doctrinal teaching are a Roman Catholic anomaly. Preaching services which never incarnate and enact that which is proclaimed, which are all talking about God and which never become a joining with the Son in His perfect act of sacrifice, praise and thanksgiving to His Father, which never actually present the life of the Risen and ascended Lord as something which may touched and received, are a Protestant anomaly. Roman Catholics, at least in some places are rediscovering preaching and Protestants and especially Evangelicals and Pentecostals are rediscovering worship and liturgy.
I think of myself as an Evangelical Catholic. For me the evangelical part is a fierce adherence to the Reformation recovery of the Gospel truth that the Love of God is not earned but that we are saved by grace through faith to be instruments of God’s loving and redeeming purposes so that we may walk in such good works “as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” Catholic is the noun that evangelical qualifies. Catholic Christianity is the Christianity that has always and everywhere been taught and to which the ancient creeds and liturgies give witness. Catholic Christianity is among other things sacramental religion and sacramental religion is God’s deeply satisfying and supernatural fulfillment of the natural capacity for religion with which He has endowed us in the creation. The natural man is a catholic and naturally drawn to sacramental religion. Just because sacramental religion is so naturally attractive, it is vital that the sacraments be in the words of the Prayer Book, “rightly and duly administered” by clergy who have a deep doctrinal and scriptural formation by a church that is cleaving to that “which has always and every where been taught.”